Growing in Christ
"He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45
Ephesus was a port city when Paul first visited it (Acts 18:18-19).
The view behind us was what Paul would have seen entering from the harbour.
(Carol and Murray in 2010)
Practical and Pastoral Observations on the Letter to the Ephesians (please read each chapter slowly and meditatively before reading observations below):
The wonderful nature of God's heart towards us: Some wonder if God is essentially for us, neutral, or if essentially God dislikes us because of our sin. This opening chapter should put this question to rest at the deepest heart level. See the consistent theme - God's desire in love (v. 4) is to bless us (v.3) in grace freely given (v.6), He redeems and forgives us (v.7), chooses and adopts us (v.4-5); and in all that predestines us in absolute certainty (v.4) to reach every planned outcome of His kind intention (v.5). That God deals with our sin conclusively through the shed blood of Christ on the cross (v.7) should be only seen as an absolute expression of His love for us.
The gifts of God in choosing and redeeming us are many and amazing. They include rescuing us from the present evil age (Gal.1:4), adopting us as His children (v.5) that we might call Him "Abba" Father (Gal.4:6). They include also forgiveness of sin (v.7) and an eternal inheritance (v.11) beyond our ability to imagine (1 Corinth 2:9): all these promises secured with the seal of His Holy Spirit (v.13).
The initiative of redemption comes from God, it could come from no one else, since we are the ones, "dead in sin" (Romans 5:6-8) needing to be rescued. No wonder Paul's expressions of "praise to His glory" (e.g. v.12 ,14) are so frequent in this opening chapter. The more clear we are that salvation is God's gift from beginning to end, the greater our praise also!
Likewise the initiative, as we reach out in Christ's name, is to come from us also. We who are redeemed in Christ are sent (John 20:21) with the same love, grace and persistence into our broken world so loved by God. We are guided by God's Holy Spirit and can never be uncaring or passive in our relations with the lost and broken. There is nothing we are waiting for now that Christ has come and sent us also...
Enlightenment is the desire of Buddhism and other worldviews. Compare however the enlightenment that is in Christ which has abundant and clear definition: "knowing the hope of His calling" "the riches of the glory of His inheritance," "the surpassing greatness of His power" (v.18-19). This points to the important distinction that Christian meditation is not simply an open or empty mind but always has specific focus and content.
Christ above All: in similar vein it is important to see clearly that Christ is not one great person among others or even one god among others. Christ is far above all "rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come." (v.21) Christ has no equals or competitors. Any suggestion otherwise simply indicates they are speaking of someone other than Jesus Christ.
My Prayer: Father, how majestic is your name, being and character! How far beyond our understanding is all you have done for us and will do for us and for the entire universe! May we live to the praise of your Glory (v.12,14) in the power of your might (v.19) under Christ who will sum up (v.10), head and fill (v.22-23) all things, even from Your right hand (v.20). In His Name, Amen.
Know yourself to be a trophy of His grace (v.7). We must not let pride blind us. Look were we started; under the power of Satan (v.2), lusting as the world does (v.3), dead in sin (v.1), deserving God's wrath (v.3), having no hope and without God in the world (v.13). From this hopeless condition, God forgave our sins, made us alive with Christ (v.5) through His resurrection and raised us up with Him into heaven to be seated with Him there (v.6).
For these reasons I want to testify to God's love (vs.1-6), live out good works expressing my Father's compassion and grace (v.10) and invite divergent peoples to enter into their heritage of unity (v.16) in Christ.
God redeems not only individuals but peoples (v.14), including Jew and Gentile and every other ethnicity, language and sub-culture, building them, if they are willing, with Christ as cornerstone (or capstone, as at the top of an arch), into a holy temple in which God's Spirit dwells (v.19-22).
2:11-22 is an expansion of God's wonderful purpose for the Body of Christ expressed in 1:23. These verses speak both of unity of divergent peoples possible only in the Lord, and of the holiness created in the cross of Christ which makes this unity possible.
2:13: "But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ."
My Prayer: "Father, how unspeakably great is Your love and solution to the intractable hopelessness of humanity without Christ. How incomplete and ultimately worthless are human efforts to provide what only You our Maker and Redeemer can provide. Your grace and truth is both the "offence of the Gospel" and our only hope. I praise you in Jesus name! Amen."
The Wonder of it All: Paul is overwhelmed with God's goodness in the wonderful work of Christ expressed in chapter 1 and 2 and is about to break out into prayer - in 3:1: "for this reason... (continued in 3:13) - but falls back into a parenthesis (v.2-13) in which he expresses his amazement that:
God's purpose is not only to bless Gentiles (often expressed in the OT, e.g. Genesis 12:3) but to make Gentiles equal heirs in one Body of Christ (v.6).
And that he, "least of all saints" would have the privilege of sharing the "unfathomable riches of Christ." (v.8)
Mystery: (v.3-4) doesn't refer to something hidden for the purpose of not letting it be known (ill intent) but simply something which could not be known unless someone reveals it (gracious intent). What was not knowable is now revealed in Christ. Further, God's gracious purpose is to be made known a) to all Gentiles (and of course Jews, Muslims and all other faiths) b) through the church/Body of Christ (our global mission), c) even to spiritual beings in heavenly places (v.10). The latter we know little of, but as one former Zulu witch doctor said: "Every new church robs Satan of turf. Every new fellowship of believers takes away his power."
Paul's Prayer: v. 13 continues the flow of v.1 "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father..." From our Father in heaven comes:
Human unity (gender, nations, races) - will never be found by political means (United Nations), coercion, or legislation - only in the fact that from God our Father "every family in heaven and on earth derives its name." (v.14-15)
This is a wonderful model for our prayer for the Body of Christ also: a) for the strength of the Holy Spirit in the inner person (v.16), b) for Christ to be completely at home in us (v.17), c) for us to be rooted and grounded in Christ's agape love (v.18) d) to come to comprehend this unspeakable love surpassing knowledge (v.19), and filled to the very fullness of God.
Paul's Exaltation: Paul now can't hold it in and expresses his joy at the amazing grace of God-incarnate-in-Christ, both now and in the future - v.20-21: "Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all we ask or think, according to the power that works within us - to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations for ever and ever. Amen."
My Prayer: "Father, I am weak with the weight of the immensity of your unspeakable majesty, your majestic plan, your grace to us as sinners and your eternal glory. There is much we strain to understand but faith goes where I cannot yet see and for this wonderful hope I praise you. Lord, teach me to value this prayer (v.14-19) as I know You do and delight in answering it again and again."
The Church: Paul describes seven personal characteristics of Christ-followers (v. 2-3) and the seven-fold cord of unity (v.4-6) binding Christ-followers together. Note the spiritual rather than institutional emphasis of the description of the Church in vs. 1-16. The goal of the Church is "growing up in all aspects into Christ" (v.15) supported by servant-leaders (v.11) who strengthen the Body of Christ in its journey to the full stature of Christ (v.13). Followers of Christ are not conceived by the NT as being outside of the Church which is the Body of Christ, nor is the Church conceived as an institution but a spiritual community of service and holiness.
The New Self: In the community of other Christ-followers (v.1-16) I am to lay aside my old self (v.17-19) and put on my new self created by God in Christ (v.24). Note the nature of:
The old self: described as futile, darkened, hardened, ignorant of the truth, excluding itself from the life of God, characterized by impure sensuality with greed for more (vs. 17-19).
The new self: described many places in the chapter including vs. 2-4, 13, 15-16, 23-32.
God's purpose in Christ: is to give us a "new self" in His likeness: i.e. reflecting the righteousness and holiness flowing from His truth (reality/self) (v.24). The "laying aside" and "putting on" is not a single event but a continual process of renewal of "the spirit of your mind" (v. 23).
Source Tests: Just as a well can be tested for good water, our behaviour, and particularly words, demonstrate its source in the old self rooted in self-centeredness or the new self rooted in Christ (vs. 25-29).
May we become conscious living and speaking the truth (v. 25), less and briefer anger [there is a righteous anger at evil which is not sinful, but even this must not be allowed to stay and fester giving the devil opportunity] (vs. 26-27), honest work not only for our own benefit but for that of others (v. 28), and words which build up and encourage others, meeting their need of the moment for grace (v.29).
My Prayer: Father, thank you for creating my new self (v.24) in your likeness. Let me never leave it aside or pick up the old. May I be conscious of my inner thoughts, and the words manifesting them, as indicators of danger and run quickly back to You. In Christ alone, Amen.
Like Father...Like Child... It's natural for children to imitate their parents (v.1). It is likewise natural and to be expected that God our Father and Christ our Lord and Saviour will over time shape every area of our lives. This is the reason also that it is important we reflect carefully on who we worship, for in worship we grow to become like the One to whom we attribute worth...
Imitating God in Christ: The chapter is full of ways in which I want to imitate God my Father and Christ my Lord and Saviour - walking in love (v.2), avoiding all immorality (v.3-4), expressing righteousness, goodness and truth (v.9), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord (v.10,17), exposing evil (v.11-14), making the most of time (v.15), loving my wife and sacrificing for her (v.25-33).
Marriage as a Reflection of Christ's Love for the Church: self-seeking responses, rooted in the desire to live out of the old (4:17-19), rather than the new (4:24), may lead to misapplying this principle in an excuse for power in marriage or to a rejection of biblical roles of husband and wife. Accepting this wonderful image and truth however leads to loving self-sacrifice of a man for his wife and family and to security and blessing for his wife and family.
The Power to Imitate God: We are sealed with the Holy Spirit when we first respond to Christ in faith (1:13-14; 4:30); we are filled as we seek and yield to God's will (v.17). This wonderful filling of the Holy Spirit can be repeated (Acts 2:4; 4:31) and is evidenced in joy, courage, spiritual vitality, obedience and Godly character. The ultimate purpose of Christ's death is to present us blameless (v.26-27).
My Prayer: "Father, thank you for giving the model of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to enable me also to be an "imitator of God" (v.1). This is the desire of my heart (v.10,17). Strengthen me and open my eyes to where I don't yet imitate You, or do so poorly."
Our Protection: God our Father and Christ our Lord and Saviour are the source of our ultimate protection in spiritual warfare. Secondarily, we show honor to God by respecting those in authority over us (e.g. parents v.1-3; employers v.5-8). Those in authority, in turn have responsibility to God for those under their oversight. All will receive from the Lord the good done to those over them or under their care and oversight (v.8).
Slavery: Neither Jesus or other NT writers directly address the established institution of slavery in the Roman Empire occupying Israel. Paul's call however to masters to recognize slaves as equals (v.9) and to Philemon to release his runaway slave to Paul's care, challenge prevailing attitudes regarding slaves in the culture in which he writes.
Satan's Opposition to God's Kingdom: Followers of Christ must not be surprised or intimidated by harassment from dark embassaries against God's Kingdom, but rather be diligent in the full use of all the armour given by Christ enabling us to stand firm against the craftiness of the devil (v.13-17). We are called not only to stand against Satan's attacks against ourselves but also to pray for other believers experiencing the same attacks (v.18) and through all to continue to advance the Gospel boldly (v.19-20).
My Prayer: "Father, how blessed we are to have Your grace on our lives. How blessed to have the cross and Your Word for our protection. Enable us to neither fear the enemy or give way to his schemes, walking only in "peace, love, faith and grace" (v.23-24)."